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The Internet

The Internet Might Not Be So Depressing 71

generic-man writes "In a follow-up to a controversial 1998 study linking Internet use to worsened depression and social difficulties, Carnegie Mellon University professor Robert Kraut now says that the symptoms of depression started to recede after a while. The New York Times (free registration required) has the story in today's Circuits section." We covered this way back in the day as well.
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The Internet Might Not Be So Depressing

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm depressed that I'm not really depressed...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yea well whoever did that report didn't find out that the girl he fell in love with on IRC was really a fat fifty year old MAN WITH NO HAIR!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Just because it doesn't cost money doesn't mean it is free! They want important information from you, e-mail address for one and how much money you make (optional). Even non-personally-identifable demographic information is valuable to them.

    Yes, /.ers are sophisticated enough to get around this. But you would think that at a place that defines different kinds of free (beer/speech) that the deception by the NYT wouldn't be perpetuated.

  • by volsung ( 378 ) <> on Friday July 27, 2001 @07:00AM (#2189470)
    Ah, the wonders of communication. In an abstract sense, communication sounds like a wonderful thing. "Oh! The Internet shall usher in a new era of understanding and cooperation. We shall all sign campfire songs and feel a kindred spirit with our fellow humans."

    Then you find out what your fellow humans actually think. Wow. Scary. Depression and anger are a natural outcome of this process.

    I'm reminded of the alien race from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who were telepathic, but couldn't stand being able to hear the thoughts of their neighbors. The aliens became avid fans of mind-crushingly loud rock music in order to drown out the thoughts of others.

  • by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @07:27AM (#2189471) Homepage Journal
    It's certainly possible that, in 1998, the internet (or, more specifically, online conversation) was depressing, because so many of the people were new to it. Imagine: you are in a society where there are millions of people around, and you haven't met anyone yet. Many of them seem to know each other already. None of the people you know from elsewhere are around. If you were the only person in your state to have a phone, and you spent your time dialing random numbers, you'd probably be depressed.

    Three years later, everyone you know from real life is online, you've met a bunch of people online and interacted with them enough to become friends. Now the internet is convenient and social, and not depressing.
  • And I've got this pain in the diodes all down my left side...
  • Let me unequivocally state that the Internet is one among a small integer number of the greatest things that ever happened to me. I am absolutely convinced that the Internet is the single most important technological development in the last quarter century (yes, I know it began over 30 years ago; cut me some slack here).

    The Internet has revolutionized the way I get information. I have faster access to better information about things than ever before.

    The Internet has revoltionized the way I buy things. I wouldn't dream of making a major purchase without first consulting the 'Net to see what other people (often real consumer testamonials) think of my leading choices.

    The Internet has revolutionized my social life. Now I never see daylight. ;-) Seriously, though, my best friends are never more than a few clicks away. Because the 'Net is close to all of us, it's much easier to assemble a bigger group of friends to pal around in real time. Because it is geographically distributed, I have friends that I talk to regularly on at least three continents, in eight or more countries. My 'Net entertainment is also much more intellectually engaging than television or movies.

    Finally, the Internet has tremendously improved my real social life. I have met literally (note proper use of the term) hundreds of my 'Net friends and aquaintances offline. The 'Net gave me an excuse to spend a week in Disney World. Most of my friends (with whom I meet daily or weekly) I first met online. I go to real-world parties with 10 or more of my Internet buddies at least five times a year.

    If anyone else has a comparable endorsement of the 'Net, let's see it and get the word out! The 'Net is here to stay, hurray!
  • If the 'net isn't as depressing as it used to be, it's more likely due to the improvement of anti-depressant drugs, which may not have happened without the net itself, yada yada...

  • Pittsburgh isn't that depressing, and it's not always cloudy...

    Besides, CMU's giving up on the grand plan of a west coast campus - at least for now:
    CMU's westward expansion bogs down in slow economy []

    Here's another recently released study on cell phone use while driving:
    CMU research has implications for talking on phone while driving []
  • I've *never* had an app kill either of my NT boxes. An app will occasionally lock up but I can always kill it with the Task Manager.

  • I saw Prof. Kraut speak earlier this year at the Earthware symposium, where he spoke about this follow-up. He noted that in a survey of Pittsburghers, there was a correlation between heavy Internet use and wanting to get out of Pittsburgh. That got a nice laugh and applause from the crowd. :)
  • I would presumably be easy for people like google to add a commercial content filter that only returned search results that weren't tagged as being commercial sites. I'm not sure exactly how they'd decide who was commercial or not, although that database could be built by users a la CDDB.

    It'd be pretty cool to get a different view of the web - to see the 99% dark web rather than the 1% commercial web.

  • you could a lot of things to depression,.. such as star trek. definitely LARPing, and probably MMORPGs.

    the reason is that losers spend a lot of time on these things. they have no lives. they are depressed for a reason! :P
  • I'm not an alien race, but I can tell you that both the motive and the cure in this case are not at all hypothetical.

    On the other hand, I think a more accurate explanation for this phenomenon is called "information overload". I get a mild depression after I begin investigating a broad new topic, just from trying to absorb vast amounts of information. I get a mild depression a few hours after entering a large city (after being away from large cities for a while).

    The original study was irresponsibly presented and reported, but no one reads retractions. And thus it's a given that at this very moment, somehwere in a big city, a kid is listening to loud rock music, using the internet to teach himself about programming for the first time, trying to ignore his mom outside the bedroom door screeching, "Turn off that internet! You'll get depressed!"

    Boss of nothin. Big deal.
    Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.

  • How could the Internet be depressing? Sitting alone in my dark basement at all hours of the day and night reading mindless slashdot comments... No personal contact except for when the mailman comes... Jeeze, where did I leave my razor blades...
  • cos I took my prozac

    //rdj (
  • No, only 14 percent of all people know that (Homer Simpson).
  • I don't find the internet depressing at all... if anything it's enlightening. It's the most easily available, vast source of information EVER. The only downer I find is when sometimes i've looked at all the pages I want and Ihave nothing better to do, I can't think of a good site to go to. That's just boring!

  • And to make it work, you even have to spell it right [] :)
  • Reading about RIP spoofing countermeasures at 2 a.m., eh? Cool.
  • When I first read the headline, I thought it said "The Internet Is Less Repressing", and I thought it was Yet Another DMCA article.
  • I'll tell you what's depressing---and it isn't the Internet. It's dealing with crooked companies like QWest that make using the Internet difficult. It's dealing with their unreliability, unresponsiveness, indifference to customer satisfaction and overall disappointing service that is depressing. It's most definitely not the medium that is causing this, but the people that deliver the medium. It always comes down to people---they cause depression, not electronics.
  • What is depressing is when you have to look for the +5 Funny before you start laughing..

    - Steeltoe
  • "Wearily on I go, pain and misery my only companions. And vast intelligence, of course. And infinite sorrow. I despise you all."

    Ahhh... now I see... Marvin was just an AOL user.
  • I haven't bothered reading the article

    But you had to post something, right?

    It's not about "being depressing," it's about "causing depression." Depression is a serious affliction that affects a lot of people, but you probably don't care about that either.

  • Seriously,
    1. Depression is closely related to anxiety. As the novelty of the Internet wears out, it stops creating that extra anxiety and stress.
    2. Dot-coms have been causing great deal of crazines before the crash. People were over-motivated by stock options and exorbitant salaries. Too much work doesn't make you any healthier.
    3. The very knowledge that the Internet could cause depression may have played its role. Increased self-awareness of potential depression victims may have helped to decrease the risk of it actually happening.

    Sorry for my bad English,
    need to go get some sleep.

  • More than anything, the comment was self-referential. I know how I come across on my site, and I'm sure as hell not the only one.

    Yay, bitterness.
  • by Nastard ( 124180 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @05:42AM (#2189494)
    The internet used to be a medium where anyone could (and did) post their thoughts, mulling over the minutiae of their daily lives. Nowadays, people just bitch and complain about every little thing.

    Yes, it's so refreshing to finally move out of a state of general depression, and into a state of general anger.
  • You could have something like a "paranoid hypochondriac", which would be someone with the illness of seeing illnesses all the time in everyone else. Instead of worrying about themselves being sick all the time, they would worry all the time about other people being sick.

    What you're describing sounds like Munchausen by proxy. Munchausen syndrome is when you constantly believe you are sick, and in extreme cases will poison or injure yourself to make people believe you. Munchausen by proxy is similar, except people with it believe others to be sick, and in extreme cases will poison them to make others believe it too. It's not too common, but when it is it's usually a parent believing a child to be sick. There have been cases of a parent becoming so obsessed with it that they poison their own children. The movie The Sixth Sense had a scene regarding this phenomenon, and Law&Order has had several episodes about it (my first exposure to the concept.) The name comes from some german guy who was well known for exaggerating stories about himself.

    Here's [] a link about it: man_2/


  • by mikeee ( 137160 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @05:37AM (#2189496)
    I find the internet more depressing all the time...
  • Boy oh boy, the good Dr. Kraut ("social scientist" - since when is "social" science?) seems to be making a lot of buzz for himself. First he does a study which is widely criticized for being nothing more than a bunch of lazy guess work, then he does a BIGGER study that refutes the results of the first study. I can't believe I'm the only one who's noticed something wrong here.

    Favorite quote: "'There was an audible buzz in the room' when Dr. Kraut started to discuss his findings." (The audible buzzes are more pesky than the inaudible ones.) Sounds like Dr Kraut's colleagues found it more interesting to talk among themselves than to listen to him.

    Second-favorite quote: "I like to be influenced by the nature of the data rather than having strong preconceptions." Translation: "I have no idea what my preconceptions are, so rather than going through the hard work of sorting them out, I'll just pretend I don't have any."

    Look - two studies by Dr Kraut come to opposite conclusions and Dr Kraut (I'm not making this up!) explains this by saying that the research subjects themselves changed in the interim. Why is anybody taking this seriously?

  • 1998 was the peak of the dotcom bubble, if memory serves. Our economy was booming and couldn't produce enough to sate our consumption. People were working long hours under high stress, and were losing time with family and friends not to mention outside interests. A few years previous these same people might have come home, flipped open a can of beer and watched the tube for a couple of hours before hitting the sack. In 1998, they came home exhausted, twisted open a bottle of Trendy-Power-Drink TM and logged onto the Internet for a few hours before turning in. Couple of years later, the boom's gone bust, we aren't putting in the mandatory over time, and we have more free time, perhaps more than we'd like. So we start reconnecting with our friends and family, in person, and online, and dust off all those hobbies we'd been wishing to get back to. The followup study leaves me with more questions than I had after the previous one. The other thought is that maybe some of the depressed, lonely people online a few years back made the connections online that helped them out the hole they were in.

  • "'There was an audible buzz in the room' when Dr. Kraut started to discuss his findings." (The audible buzzes are more pesky than the inaudible ones.)
    In the media, "buzz" means something like pre-hype - something talked about among insiders in an industry. So like if people are talking on the phone about a new report its buzz. If people are "buzzing" about something at the event to the degree that a reporter picks up on it, or it drowns out other sounds, its "audible buzz."
    I guess what I'm saying, is in this sense, buzz is an air of excitement or anticipation, not a noise.
  • by jkalange ( 178062 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @06:59AM (#2189500) Homepage
    It's more likely that people with mood disorders obsess over the internet, rather than the net itself making them depressed. Take IRC (not just aol chat rooms) for example: those who spend inordinate amounts of time chatting (idling/plotting world domination/etc) probably suffer from some kind of mental idiosyncracy (ie. depression). Instead of taking mental illness seriously (and doing something about it?) it's likely that many out there are looking to make excuses instead (and spend lots of cash on trying to prove silly things).
  • Maybe I just didn't eat my Wheaties this morning, but this article has a larger impact on my opinion of sociology than on my opinion of the Internet.


  • I can confirm that for ya.

    About a year after I started using the Internet [on 33.6k] I was quite depressed. Although it lessened slowly [I got 56k] I was put on medication. I now have one-way cable, and although I still feel depressed once in a while [damn slow uploads], I no longer take medication.

    How I'd love an OC-48...


  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @06:46AM (#2189503) Journal
    There is a certain trap that people in certain professions fall into. The thing you work with everyday will taint your viewpoint.

    In police departments, especially large cities, often police officers are rotated out of criminal investigations units on a regular basis. They get transfered to a lighter duty unit, like traffic, or something, so that they have contact with real poeple, and get to have a chance to unwind from dealing with criminal types all the time.

    I am sure that the psychs have the same issue. Their view gets tainted, and they see evidence of mental disease all around them, even when it is not true. This also tends to be self re-enforcing, because it is good for business.

    You could even speculate about something like the prevalence of mental illness in the mental health profession. You could have something like a "paranoid hypochondriac", which would be someone with the illness of seeing illnesses all the time in everyone else. Instead of worrying about themselves being sick all the time, they would worry all the time about other people being sick. A paranoid version of hypochondria. This would naturally fit in well in the medical and mental health community.

  • Interesting point, I think it'd be notable to point out that won a webbie probably for just that reason.
  • Now THAT'S the problem with the internet: Data, data, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
  • I'm not depressed. I just lock myself inside the house for hours at a time, with the shades drawn, and listening to the Cure. I have friends! I type stuff into boxes and responds with all sorts of results! Zoloft and Prozac are foresaken! I've got Google!
  • by briggsb ( 217215 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @05:48AM (#2189508)
    It certainly wasn't depressing for this guy [].
  • by canning ( 228134 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @05:38AM (#2189509) Homepage
    "A three-year follow-up of the original sample found that negative effects dissipated,"

    It took them three years to find that out? Now that's depressing.

  • A few years back I could search for, say, "thai food" and without much additional effort find a kewl recipie from someone in Thailand with an html editor. Back then, I might be inclined to write the author a short note, thanking them for their help (and maybe suggesting kicking up the hot pepper a little). I would say things like that contributed a lot to the attraction of millions of new users onto the internet.

    More recently, due to factors like the IPO bubble and paid placements in searchengines, doing that would be a lot more likely to point me to a site maintained by a dotcom operation, with lots and lots of ads and product tieins and some semi-obvious goo-goo doing whatever method of persuasion they can think of to get me to enter an email address [yeah, right]

    Ignoring marketing crap like that has become almost subconscious, like slamming shut a popup window before the graphics even begin to load, but even so I think there's a cumulative effect that comes from having to deal with hucksters and panhandlers online on a daily basis, and it isn't uplifting. Knowing that our internet, not to mention our society and culture, is like this (for the time being anyway - a lot of these places are folding as their funds run out) is just simply sad.

    One minor point of sublime satisfaction: With Linux i can kill the netscape thread and restart my browser without rebooting when it locks up from some bad m$java, or activeX, or Flash, or whatever those jokers uploaded to do stuff clandestinely to their customers. Incidentally, when I'm talking to Windows users about Linux this fact, along with added security, goes over real well.

    I suppose having said all that I should disclaim that I'm not at all an antimaterialist, and that I do when necessary like to purchase online often. The merchants I buy from respect me as a customer and I in turn don't begrudge them the money.

    Different businesses have different methods of operation, and deeply different values. The good guys and the others are all equally capitalistic, but the marketplace is and will continue to favor one attitude over the opposite as long as the playing field remains level. The ultimate destination of this process isn't depressing at all, but the present noise level while all this is taking place can be in itself a little annoying to listen to at length without a break.

  • For many of these kids, IRC helped them 'snap out of it'.

    If you only talk to people through IRC, how do you know if any of them kill themselves or run away from home and become prostitutes and junkies? All you know is that you stop seeing some people online.

    Did you have a control group of depressed kids in the same socioeconomic class that did not use IRC? Do they fare any worse or better than those who use IRC? How do you know that IRC "helped the kids you are talking about 'snap out of it'"? Might they have recovered from depression anyway?

    Science and statistics are not that hard. I'm not trying to pick on you personally because I see these leaps of faith and assumption throughout the posts I read. You just happened to be post n+1 where n is the number of posts of that type I can read without replying.

  • If you were depresssed BEFORE you came on the net, you'll be depressed afterwards, the net has nothing to do with your depression, however, if you are depressed offline and need an escape, the net is always there now you dont have to turn to drugs, alcohol, bars, or many of the other real life escapes, because you have the internet and can go to a chatroom, talk to people who will listen to your problems even if they dont actually care. The net may actually help some people.
  • Come on, we all know that 80% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
  • I should hope that burritos are upwards of 60% fat. They'd be pretty gross if only 5% fat.

  • ...or that people are tortured and killed because of the way they freely interact with other consenting people.

    Imagine a lion tearing out the throat of another lion because that other lion refused, absolutely refused, to join the first lion's health care plan.

  • They did that on Leno a few years ago, when they introduced one of the band members to his chat-room long time love, Susan (or Debbie or whatever), a late-30-something balding, long-haired nerd male.

  • Truly, imagine how idiotic sitting for hours every night in front of the "idiot box"/"boob tube" would have been to Laura Ingalls-Wilder.

    "Can you BELIEVE how much of their life is wasted just watching drivel, and very poorly-written drivel at that?"

    If anything, interacting in front of the "new TV" is at least an improvement in that more brainpower is required.

  • I've managed to slaughter both NT and Solaris Unix, but then again I'm a power user who taxes machines with a hundred open windows and a dozen open apps. (My NT menu bar at the bottom of the screen is currently 11 columns by 6 rows, pop up on mouseover of course.)

  • by Haxx ( 314221 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @05:35AM (#2189519) Homepage

    This applies to lonely people in the aol chat rooms. It has nothing to do with most of us. I get pretty damn excited more often than not at 2 am while on page 312 of hacking exposed.

    -Manic Depression, searches my soul, what I want, I just dont know.
  • well less repressing would be good for me...
  • Once again I have to say that these types of studies make no sense. Use of the internet causes depression, now it doesn't? Ugh, stop, just stop, there's no need to research this kind of thing. People cause depression, OK, people, they're weaknesses, frailties, complexes, and all their damn discussions on depression... that all causes depression. The internet is just another thing in the world like TV or the interstate system, use it if you want to, if you get a depression and kill yourself, don't say "the internet made me do it." Take the damn responsibility for yourself people.
  • Having not met anyone cool at CMU, and loosing my friends from high school to places... I got pulled over by a cop and was excited to have human contact once. That kinda is funny. Seriously, if you're so fucking poor you can't afford food, you're living in Pittsburgh, and you're brain is being beaten by tough CMU classes... Hell I don't blame you for going psycho... I almost did, and one of my old high school friends who went to Pitt killed his family. I don't blame em really... All the stupid parents around here want you to get a job, and hold down an education at once... when there are more factors at play. Hey I don't know about suicide, I'd prolly go out shooting... Or having robots kill people I hate for me, so I can go live in Uruquay or something. Bleh. Going on a psychotic rampage is cool if you take out people that suck. If you don't know who sucks, just aim for rich people.
  • Well, I can agree.

    I really had my ass handed over me 200+ times in a Quake Arena. I decided to stop when I began thinking about my Katana and the nice things I could do to my computer. Then I had a glass with friends.

    It is to be noted that after 2 Vodka, 1 Beer and one of those Hilarating cigarets 8) I came back to the game, got fragged another 100 times, but didn't give a sh*t, cause the guy was better and I enjoyed playin Hide&Frag in a Quake Game 8)
  • by ( 410908 ) on Friday July 27, 2001 @05:35AM (#2189524) Journal
    Ain't you depressed when you learn you have been fragged 214 times in a row by a 12 year old living 6000 miles from you, so you can't even spank him for not showing the respect he should have had for your elderly fingers and cracking reflexes ?!?

  • Yes, the Internet can be very depressing at times. Like the phone system and the electricity network, those make me depressed too...

    Seriously, how can a *medium* be depressing? It all depends on how something is used by the individual. I haven't bothered reading the article, but I don't care about how the majority uses the Internet and feels depressed by it (or not).

  • Maybe it was the lack of bandwidth and everyone just sitting there waiting for a page to load or a download to finish that was causing depression. Today bandwidth levels are rising and everything is much more zippidiedodah..oh there I go with my happy bandwidth song again...

    Personally I get really excited watching paint dry and grass grow.
  • In my 5 years of DALnet chatting, I've seen quite a few lonely teenagers borderline, if not diagnosabley depressed. For many of these kids, IRC helped them 'snap out of it'.
  • If your getting depressed on the net its because you spend toooo much time at slashdot.

    If you visit alot of pages with about a robin's egg blue & lots of green adds flickering, it will revive your depressiion. Stay away from these black & grey page dudes...dude.

  • What is depressing is the ammount of violence in the news (on the internet as well as on TV.) It's not a matter of whether there is more violence now than there was 20 years ago. It's the fact that people are more interested in it. Now THAT'S depressing.
  • That's why CMU is planning on building a campus in sunny California, far, far away from the dread evil grey eternal cloud cover that looms depressingly over its otherwise exciting robotics-clubbing, ethernet-chugging, Quake 3A-loving campus.
  • I've read the word 'depressed' so many times in these past few posts, it's lost all meaning. How depressing.
  • I think G.W. Bush is depressing. I think Dick Cheney is depressing. I don't think the Internet is depressing, it just brings us depressing news.

    I don't know about chatroom junkies, or script kiddies... But I use the Internet as it was intended to be used, to get information and to contribute to the software development community.

    I started when all we had was Compuserve and The Source, and BBS systems. Back then it was very, very exciting to be a part of this communication thingy. My first ISP was called set up in 1994 and lasted for many years before being absorbed by which then was absorbed by

    Things have become more depressing for me, and those around me due to the recent economic slowdown. I blame these problems on the current illegitamite president. He was talking down the economy before the presidency, then he {and his oil-company cronies} used their power to grip California with an Energy crisis as a reason to drill the Arctic... Now this is depressing... And the tech companies stalled due to the 'slowdown' Bush was hoping for to justify his 'tax breaks' {read giving a ton of money to rich freaks}.

    The Internet is not depressing, the friggin country is. Until the 'dummy king' G.W. Bush is kicked on his butt, this country will remain depressed....

    Michael A. Uman
    Sr Software Engineer

  • LOL, I usually dish out the fragging ... but on those occasional bad nights, getting my ass handed to me electronically gives me incentive to go out. Nothing ends my enjoyment of using a computer faster than having a bad night in a FPS game. So I usually end up going out to a bar and having a good time. So I guess my astounding revelation is that when "the information superhighway" depresses me, I go out and have a good time. I don't see what's wrong with that.

    That's Mr. Eradicator to you.
  • If only I was paid to drink scotch and play Counter-Strike.

    That's Mr. Eradicator to you.
  • If the statistics are truly "made up", then the researchers should lose all credibility. My point is that statistics are often used deceptively to make one's point. I could say that in the past 10 years, e-commerce has risen xx% or I could say in the past 1 year, e-commerce has fallen xx% I could say a burrito is 5% fat (yuck!) or I could say it's 95% fat-free (yay!). Statistics can be construed to back up most anyone's opinion. You just have to know _all_ the facts before you interpret their argument.

    That's Mr. Eradicator to you.
  • People use statistics to warp the truth and form biased results. I love how, in the original article, they claim less than one percent increase in depression and lonliness. Wow. Less than one percent increase. That's ridiculous. If anything, people became more depressed because they realized they just made a huge mistake in wasting several hours on some stupid study.

    That's Mr. Eradicator to you.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer